With its abundance of style icons—think Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor—the ’50s gave us plenty to be grateful for on the fashion front. From Christian Dior’s cinched waists, hyperfeminine elegance, and a whole load of gingham prints, it’s safe to say the influence of the ’50s cast a fabulously long shadow. But while some key looks are immediately recognizable as hailing straight from the era that coined the word “teenager” and birthed rock ’n’ roll culture, others may come as a surprise.
Cropped denim, for example. A classic Audrey Hepburn look. Then there’s the bandeau bikini made famous by Brigitte Bardot in Cannes and beach accessories that were first debuted by Alfred Hitchcock’s über-glam film stars—namely Grace Kelly. Intrigued? Keep scrolling to browse our gallery of the most iconic ’50s outfits we’re all still wearing today.
In February 1947, Christian Dior showed his La Corolle collection in Paris, which went on to define the cinched-waist silhouette of the coming decade. Back then, it was branded the New Look—a flouncy hyperfeminine counter to minimalist postwar dressing. Today it’s known as the fit-and-flare, a perennial fashion go-to and staple among summer wedding guests.
We’ve got James Dean and Marlon Brando to thank for jeans crossing over into the mainstream in the ’50s. Formerly part of the uniform for manual work, the rise of teenage culture and rock ’n’ roll brought denim into the fashion fold. And thank goodness for that!
Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity—present-day poolside glamour owes a lot to the screen sirens of the ’50s. From figure-flattering swimsuits to oversize sunnies, big straw hats, and silk hair wraps, hitting the beach sans accessories wasn’t an option.
Bikinis first hit beaches in 1946 but were still considered risqué; it wasn’t until the mid-’50s that they really started to catch on. An early adopter of the “skimpy” beachwear, Brigitte Bardot famously wore a bandeau bikini during the 1953 Cannes Film Festival and sent demand soaring—and in 2020, we’re still buying.
Beloved by the ’50s jet set, high-waisted shorts were essential resortwear—think weekends in Cannes and honeymoons in Acapulco—while teens quickly adopted them as a chic summer uniform. We’re adding the look to this year’s holiday packing list for sure, worn with a cropped or tucked-in blouse à la Norma Shearer.
Audrey Hepburn may have cemented the status of the LBD, but cropped cigarette trousers that just skimmed the ankle became her second signature piece. And they’re super chic. We’re not surprised cropped trousers are everywhere again.
While Dior championed the fit-and-flare, Givenchy and Balenciaga delivered looser cuts (and shorter hemlines) in the form of sack dresses. Cue Joan Collins looking super chic in what eventually inspired the shifts, minis, and jumper dresses our wardrobes are full of.
Marilyn Monroe is known for many things, but her status as the master of pencil skirts can’t be denied. In a decade where elegance and glamour reigned supreme, the pencil skirt became a slinkier and more modern alternative to full skirts. It’s a legacy that’s still firmly standing, with pencil skirts all over the runways.
The ultimate cool girls, Judies (aka Teddy Girls), shunned flouncy fashions for menswear-inspired shapes. The uniform? Rolled-up trousers with ballet flats or brogues, finished with men’s shirts and blazers often found in thrift stores and customized at home.
Coined by Christian Dior, the term “cocktail dress” originally described a calf-length dress worn for gatherings held between 6 and 8 p.m. Though the rules have somewhat relaxed (and we’re sure they never applied to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor), the glamour of the short-and-chic cocktail frock lives on.